Not many would know that 2008 saw the 30th anniversary of the International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago. Over the course of the Memorial Day weekend, all manner of kink-loving, leather-sporting gay, transgendered, disabled and even a few straight men strutted their stuff in the Hyatt Regency, adding $18 million to the economy of the extra-windy city.
Fortunately, filmmaker Mike Skiff was on hand to record the wide-ranging proceedings and give viewers an intriguing look into the world of BDSM/leather since its steady growth following World War II. (One senior member fondly recalls his first, er, taste of leather came from donning combat boots and living in an all-male environment. Sadly, many of his best buds who survived the military carnage were no match for HIV/AIDS when it began its devastation in the late ‘70s—just as the first IML pageants moved into the “lavenderlight.”)
Like present-day reality shows, the contestants are rated by a panel of experts and last year’s winner (Mikel Gerle had the 2007 honours). IML founder and still leader Chuck Renslow recalls how the event has evolved from a small beginning (replacing the earlier Gold Coast awards named after the Chicago leather bar that he bought in 1960) to a truly international, all-inclusive extravaganza of chaps, cod pieces, jocks, collars, whips and a huge array of paraphernalia for those who measure the success of their sexual activity by the number of bruises, welts or cuts on display the morning after.
To be able to live up to its international moniker from the git go, a customized poster was circulated to Germany in 1978—it was well-known that post-combat German men also had a strong interest in role playing where machine guns were replaced with a personal side arm that redefined “make love not war” for the hot-blooded lads. Freud could have had a second career trying to delve into those sorts of master/slave relationships.
The film ought to be seen by anyone who’s ever harboured a wee fantasy about having some consensual, “rough” encounters. Apart from dozens of saucy cheeks and a wide variety of pecs, abs and nipples, the frequently seen XXX symbol applies more to three decades than R-rated activities. The inevitable detractors from the religious Right don’t realize that the whupping their derided targets should expect to receive from Him (“Wait ‘til you meet God”) on their day of reckoning would be as welcome as needed rain.
A sprinkling of supportive dykes and curious straight women (and thus a fag hag is born) give ready testimony to their sudden intrigue with the unabashedly open kink on display. Perhaps one day….
From the contestants’ point of view, having the courage to stand before their peers—just as they are and want to be—is a personal high that permeates the film. There is lots of judgement in the room, but—this time—it is wanted and a far cry from the much less accepting “real worlds” of many of the proud entrants’ while this family of kink holds its annual meeting.
The shot du jour sees a professional therapist administer a group meditation sequence for all of the anxious candidates. As he expertly cracks his whip in the air, the former outcasts silently reflect on just what it means to feel included and wanted—some for the first time ever. Amen to that. JWR